18.5 million viewers and inverted glasses: Dennis Taylor ruled snooker at its peak

Snooker may never see another highlight like the 1985 World Cup final with its 18.5 million BBC viewers at well after midnight – and Dennis Taylor, the man who propelled that iconic moment to fame and fortune, is celebrating his 72nd today birthday.

Taylor’s play and subsequent media career is clearly much more than that one pot on the last black of the final frame of the Crucible final against the world No. 1 and the glowing favorite Steve Davis to win 18-17 for his only world title – but sometimes it just doesn’t seem that way.

A fact that is sometimes overlooked is that arguably Sheffield’s most revered match of snooker didn’t have a break for a century, food for the odd cynic to question its quality. But the sheer drama and shock value with the underdog Northern Irish coming back from 8-0 behind at one point made it stand out for decades.

Born in 1949 in Coalisland in County Tyrone, Taylor is and remains a born entertainer, born for the stage that this triumph gave him. Before the days of handsome prize money rewards from snooker, the likes of Taylor and John Virgo supplemented their income with exhibitions across the country and beyond.

And the reality was simple and stark. If you put on a good show, engaged and joked with the crowd, and had a decent routine of jokes, repartee and trick shots, you were much more likely to be called back and get the word out to other venue owners and promoters.

Like a comedian who comes through a baptism of fire in front of a small, tough audience before going big, these experiences have left Taylor thick-skinned and courageous to go out and perform in front of a bigger audience — and relaxed enough to bring them. to the matches.

Speaking of how he got into the sport and started using the signature inverted goggles that became a nifty personal branding hit, Taylor recounts: “It took me 13 years to become an overnight success! When I got to England moved to stay with my aunts in Blackburn, I had to work – I didn’t even have a snooker cue with me.

“And I didn’t really know how good I was. Back in Coalisland at 14 I was the best snooker and billiards player but I didn’t think I was that good until I moved to England and I was as good as the local amateurs.

“I worked 12 hour shifts in a paper mill and then took the bus to go to the snooker club for practice. And there I met Alex Higgins who also moved to Blackburn along with Jim Meadowcroft.

“I lost to Cliff Thorburn in the World Championship in 1973, and when he came from Canada he introduced some new shots. And from that day on we are good friends. We had great fights on the table, but were close. Cliff is my favorite person in the whole world, I love him dearly.

“I first got to the finals in 1979 when the game really took off, a new name along with Terry Griffiths. I beat Steve Davis and Ray Reardon that year. But I had contact lens problems after I took off my glasses .

“Jack Karnehm, a professional and BBC commentator, had a family business that made eyewear. So I went to Bracknell and he made me some famous inverted glasses, which he used to wear, but for the television. I first wore them in 1983, and without them I wouldn’t have accomplished what I did.”

There were many other high points in Taylor’s career, most notably at the 1987 Masters, where he defeated compatriot Higgins 9-8 in the final. the opposing team ordered the champagne while the match was far from over.

And he has become almost as well known for his work as a much-loved commentator for the BBC and as an expert for both the broadcaster and other media. And because of his exhibition background, he was regularly called upon to perform in front of the public when a match ended early in the Crucible with a mini-session left, leaving punters short. The same skills have made him a valuable member of snooker’s Seniors Tour and Legends events.

But—and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind us mentioning it—Taylor, married twice and with five kids, will forever be best known for that incredible night on April 28, 1985, and a snooker moment. and even transcended sports to become a cultural signpost of the decade.

Taylor recalls the final with his epic 68-minute decisive frame, saying, “People remember I wagged my finger after I got the last black one and won it…but I did the same thing after I won my first frame when I was 8-0 down on day one of the final Steve missed a green to go 9-0 and then the whole game changes.

“And after coming back at 9-7, even though I wasn’t really ahead until the end, I never felt out of it, I still thought I could win 15-12 behind. Some Steve fans on the balcony yelling “Come on Steve, my son” started irritating me, and things like that spur you on.

“Then everyone watching got sucked into the drama of the last frame. It got messy, both our heads were in jam jars and things can go wrong under that pressure, so it was a job on autopilot. got a long black till the green sack in the jaws i walked away without looking, thinking i’d screwed up.It wasn’t until I turned around that I realized that the cut Steve had wasn’t a complete trick.

“He hit way too thin, the whiter the whole table went and the next moment I’m standing there waving the cue above my head.”

It remains one of the most enduring images of snooker.

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